Interpretation and overinterpretation: world, history, texts

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One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity Author(s): Miwon Kwon Source: October, Vol. 80 (Spring, 1997), pp. 85-110 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778809 Accessed: 19/01/2010 12:57
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One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity*

MIWON KWON

Site specificity used to imply something grounded, bound to thelaws of physics. Often playing with gravity,site-specific works used to be obstinate about "presence," even if they were materially ephemeral, and adamant about immobility, even in the face of disappearance or destruction. Whether inside the white cube or out in the Nevada desert, whether architectural or landscape-oriented, site-specific art initially took the "site"as an actual location, atangible reality, its identity composed of a unique combination of constitutive physical elements: length, depth, height, texture, and shape of walls and rooms; scale and proportion of plazas, buildings, or parks; existing conditions of lighting, ventilation, traffic patterns; distinctive topographical features. If modernist sculpture absorbed its pedestal/base to sever its connection to or express itsindifference to the site, rendering itself more autonomous and selfreferential, and thus transportable, placeless, and nomadic, then site-specific works, as they first emerged in the wake of Minimalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, forced a dramatic reversal of this modernist paradigm.1 Antithetical to the claim "If you have to change a sculpture for a site there is something wrong with thesculpture,"2site-specific art, whether interruptive or assimilative, gave itself up to its environmental context, being formally determined or directed by it.3
This essay is part of a larger project on the convergence of art and architecture in site-specific practices of the past thirty years, especially in the context of public art. I am grateful to those who provided encouragement and criticalcommentaries: Hal Foster, Helen Molesworth, Sowon and Seong Kwon, Rosalyn Deutsche, Mark Wigley, Doug Ashford, Russell Ferguson, and Frazer Ward. Also, as a recipient of the Professional Development Fellowship for Art Historians, I am indebted to the College Art Association for its support. 1. Douglas Crimp has written: "The idealism of modernist art, in which the art object in and of itselfwasseen to have a fixed and transhistorical meaning, determined the object's placelessness, its belonging in no particular place. ... Site specificity opposed that idealism-and unveiled the material system it obscured-by its refusal of circulatory mobility, its belongingness to a specificsite" (On the Museum'sRuins [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993], p. 17). See also Rosalind Krauss, "Sculpture in the...
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